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Re-evaluating the Big East

Surprising early results have turned the Big East's preseason picture on its head. Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

We are entering, likely, the final season of the Big East Conference as we've known it for a long time. So with schools coming and going the next couple of years, let's look at where the league's teams are right now as they enter a historic conference race and where they may end up in March -- or April.

I've used the Big East's preseason coaches' poll as my measuring stick:

1. Connecticut Huskies

What we thought: This is a team that returned four young starters and its Hall of Fame coach from a national championship team and added one of the nation's best recruiting classes. The prognosis for another opportunity to reach the Final Four is very, very good.

The story so far: Outside of a blip against UCF in the Bahamas, the Huskies are right on track going into Big East play and they haven't come close to their potential. Guards Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Ryan Boatright have had moments of alternating brilliance.

How the story will end: Freshman Andre Drummond has started to figure out the college game and it's only a matter of time before Alex Oriakhi breaks out of his early-season slump. Few are better at developing a young team than Jim Calhoun, so the Huskies should be right where they want to be in March. Like Syracuse and Louisville, they are very capable of getting to New Orleans.

2. Syracuse Orange

What we thought: The Orange came into the season as a consensus top-five team with, arguably, the deepest bench that Jim Boeheim has had in many years. While replacing the "human refrigerator," Rick Jackson, was not going to be easy, Syracuse returned four starters, a bench loaded with talent and another outstanding recruiting class.

The story so far: Wow! This Syracuse team is every bit as good as advertised, although close wins over NC State, Stanford and Florida still show the need for improvement. This team has scoring firepower, veteran guard play and improving young big men inside. Sophomore Dion Waiters may end up being this team's best pro prospect -- and he comes off the bench.

How the story will end: Boeheim's club will get out of the gate quickly. In addition, they have a reasonably favorable road conference schedule, which virtually ensures they will stay at the top on the conference all season. This is a Final Four-worthy team as it heads toward March.

3. Louisville Cardinals

What we thought: I will not lie. I picked Louisville to go to the Final Four in New Orleans. Yet it's ironic that with all of the injuries that have hit the Cardinals, they look overrated as the No.4 team in the country.

The story so far: With myriad injuries and eligibility issues striking the team, continuity has been an issue. The good news for Rick Pitino is that he's developing a core of players that should end up about where they were selected in the preseason. Kyle Kuric continues to be an unassuming team leader. Sophomore Russ Smith, an afterthought a year ago, has become the Cardinals' Rajon Rondo; fellow sophomore Gorgui Dieng is the Big East's most improved big man.

How the story will end: Nobody will be surprised if Rick Pitino takes this team to the Final Four. Few are better in a tournament atmosphere and he'll use the adversity of the season, so far, to lengthen an already deep bench.

4. Pittsburgh Panthers

What we thought: With Big East Preseason Player of the Year, Ashton Gibbs and a truckload of talented, young frontcourt players, the Panthers looked primed for another dominating run through much of the Big East landscape.